Visual Arts

Photo Flop

Carlos Batts is a big-deal Los Angeles-based photographer who, since the mid-1990s, has shot models for fashion spreads, rock and rap bands for CD covers, and hot gals for sex magazines. Hustler, NBC and Skechers have all used his work to inject a dash of edgy alterna-cool to their image. Batts' latest venture is a book of art photography and accompanying exhibition he bills as a 21st-century version of American Gothic, Grant Wood's iconic 1930 painting. You know the one: It's got the balding white farmer clutching a pitchfork standing next to a prim, grim woman. Batts' take is that the world is no longer the repressed, agrarian world of Wood's painting but a violent, sexualized urban zoo inhabited by women with augmented breasts and a penchant for fishnet stockings. He tells us this via slick photo collages that are technically accomplished, but full of symbols so creaky they need oil. There are lots of skulls, staring eyes, screaming mouths, and close-ups of tattooed flesh and sexy women. It's the standard stuff of death metal CD covers, where the governing aesthetic is risqué = cool. Batts' work doesn't offer any insights into what drives the sex and violence, he just creates a mood. That's fine for persuading people to buy a pair of tennis shoes, but it doesn't accomplish Batts' high-minded goal of commenting on the culture.
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Leanne Potts